Just the Facts

BOC gets update on school projects

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Dan Finnerty

As the air turns colder, the temperature remains high on some hot button items in Macon
County – mainly involving schools.

Yet, before the Macon County Board of Commissioners (BOC) settled in to discuss the agenda for their Oct. 10 meeting, Commissioner Danny Antoine, in his role as a county chaplain, presented quarterly awards to area first responders. Recognized for service to the county were: Paige Southard, 911 dispatch; Dalton Drimmon, EMS; Chandler Ellenburg, EMS; Michael Gerra, N.C. State Trooper for Macon County; Anissa Steele and Daniel Crane, Macon County Sheriff’s Office.

After the awards were presented, discussions ensued primarily focusing on school-related issues. In fact, in an ongoing effort to afford area citizens a voice in the new Franklin High School (FHS) construction process, commissioners announced that a drop-in Community Input Session will be held next Thursday, Oct. 19, at the Robert C. Carpenter Community Building, from 4-8 p.m., to view the school’s new design schematic drawings. LS3P, the architectural firm overseeing the project, announced a possible virtual tour of the new school if one can be completed in time for the drop-in.

Paul Boney, LS3P’s senior vice president, also delivered an update to commissioners on the Highlands School Renovation/Pre-K project. Boney presented his company’s recommendation for a Construction Manager at Risk (CMR) proposal, reporting the overall process to be broken down into three phases: Mechanical and Windows; Pre-K; and Renovation. He advised commissioners to pursue all three together in order to have a more accurate assessment of price and expenditures.

Highlands Middle School renovation funding was previously designated according to County Finance Director Lori Carpenter, who shared, “$695,730 has been allocated overall, $63,430 of which was for planning and design; the remainder was intended to do the Highlands Middle School renovation – the HVAC, the roof, and the flooring.”

Project bids have been significantly over-budget and/or out of schedule thus far. Boney recommended the commissioners submit a Request for Qualification (RFQ) to have a CMR on the Highlands project so it can move forward and LS3P can then come back to the board if additional funding is necessary. Boney also recommended LS3P apply for a grant, at the same time holding the Macon County bid in place, while Phase One is completed. Chairman Paul Higdon did not agree.

“When we got into this thing, we were led to believe the funding is in place for this … now it is twice what was allocated,” said Higdon.

In the end, LS3P offered to put out an RFQ initially for Phase One. Commissioners ultimately passed approval to move forward on the entire process, broken down into individual phases.

Other new business included County Planning Director Joe Allen presenting a bond agreement with Tiny Mountain Estates (TME) developer, Equity Trust Company. The agreement states that the developer will complete all required improvement within TME in accordance with the applicable Macon County Subdivision ordinance. As part of the agreement, the developer agreed to maintain a performance bond of $22,714.56. With road paving being the main work to be accomplished, the board unanimously approved the agreement.

County Manager Derek Roland also spoke on a Master Service Agreement renewal with LittleT Broadband. The agreement supports assistance with “future broadband planning and development activities,” and it includes technical consulting services from LittleT. The agreement is applicable for three years as of Oct. 10, 2023. The fiscal-year 2024 budget has allocated for the broadband project but the particular task before the board was to re-approve and extend the agreement as written and previously approved. Commissioner Gary Shields made a motion to approve the renewal, which was unanimously passed.

A new business item that was not originally included on the meeting agenda was the grant award process for the FHS Career and Technical Education (CTE) program. On hand to present both a grant already received, and discuss commissioners’ support for an additional competitive grant, was Macon County Schools CTE Director Colleen Strickland and fellow CTE staff member Josh Brooks, also a coach at FHS. Strickland relayed to the board that FHS’ CTE program recently received a $495,280 grant from the Dogwood Health Trust organization.

Strickland also shared with commissioners that a federal grant possibility was subsequently discovered that could increase the original nearly half a million dollar grant up to more than $4 million. Funds from grants enable CTE to improve staffing and support Career Development Plans for students 6-12 as well as professional development for teachers. (See related article this issue: “Partnership means more opportunities for students”.)

More specifically, what is titled the Perkins Innovation Modernization Grant provides access to a farm-to-table land lab, increased dual enrollment, increased credentials, and student-run enterprise. One aspect of eligibility is matching funds, which must come from a local source.

The local source, in FHS’ case, is Macon County, which has purchased the Higdon Property, in part, for use by the CTE program (located across from the FHS campus); paid for 1.5 CTE positions within the school’s program; and paid a 2% supplement on all local CTE teachers’ salaries. Combined with the Dogwood grant funding and support from local partners, Dogwood would provide an additional $100,000 match.

Brooks noted, “Talking with some of the local farmers about things we could do … having farming simulators where students could learn to use equipment on farms … We could use this grant money for something realistic that kids can benefit from and become more familiar with.”

The CTE team requested the board approve the county manager to send a letter of support, on behalf of the commissioners, for the Perkins grant. Additionally, Strickland asked the board to consider “submitting a resolution at the next county commissioners meeting supporting the CTE program and this grant.” A motion was made to authorize Roland to draft the resolution for the November meeting, which passed unanimously.

The next meeting of the Macon County Board Commissioners is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 6 p.m.